Harlow Shapley discusses Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

Oral history audio excerpt

Harlow Shapley discusses Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

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How did this first student, for example, Cecilia Gaposchkin, happen to come? Did you meet her in England, and then she thought that she would like to come and work with you?


Yes, I don’t know when it was, but early ‘20s, I was in England and gave a lecture at the astronomical society and to the amateur society — the British Association they call it. And at the British Association where I lectured, probably on galaxies or stellar revolution or something, there was a tall young woman of 25 or so who just drank it in. She told me afterward, “I went back to Cambridge from London and told Professor Eddington that I want to study with Harlow Shapley.” She made that deliberation public and he, or somebody, let us know. A fellowship was provided, and Cecilia Payne (that was her name then, now Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin) came over, incited by the one lecture that I gave. Well, the way I talked and you would talk at that time was a good deal different from now. There could be quite a lot of thrill in the fact that this globular cluster is not just here next door but is 150 million million miles away. Anyway it was dazzle talk, I’m afraid, and for a great many years Mrs. Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin has been number one woman astronomer. In fact, she’s been at the Smithsonian Institution since July 1st and is working on the Magellanic Clouds. She’s about to retire now. She and her husband are hot on the Magellanic Clouds at the present time and doing a tremendous study. The observatory is providing her with help. She has lectured over the country, wrote books, and did much research. She was an intellectual “whiz kid.”